Boris Johnson last night begged families to stay at home as the Covid-19 death toll hit a grim new record – with the Government launching a new campaign blitz to scare people into obeying lockdown rules.
England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has appeared in adverts urging us to stay at home as the new variant of the virus rips across the country.
Two terrifying new posters also show a patient dying in hospital and a healthcare worker wearing full PPE, warning Britons: ‘If you go out, you can spread it. People will die.’
Mr Johnson said that infections were rising at an alarming rate, despite the new national lockdown imposed at the start of the week.
And he warned the only way to prevent thousands more deaths was to follow the rules. The Prime Minister said: ‘I know the last year has taken its toll.
‘But your compliance is now more vital than ever. Once again, I must urge everyone to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.’
Another 1,325 Covid deaths were reported on Friday – nearly one a minute – and more than the peak of 1,224 in the first wave last April.
The grisly death toll – which has doubled in a week – takes the UK to the brink of almost 80,000 victims.
Experts fear the daily death counts will continue to spiral because of rocketing cases and hospitalisations, piling further pressure on Boris Johnson to speed up the sluggish vaccination programme designed to start getting Britain out of lockdown by mid-February.
Department of Health figures show the UK has recorded more than 50,000 cases for 11 days in a row, with the five worst days of the pandemic all occurring since the start of 2021. Cases have risen by almost 30 per cent week-on-week.
But a senior SAGE official today warned the actual number of Britons currently getting infected every day is closer to 150,000, claiming that the size of the second wave is now way worse than the first.
The source also fears England’s third national lockdown will not ‘slam the R rate down as it did in March’ because the country was dealing with a more infectious mutated strain and because adherence to the rules has dwindled.
No10’s advisory panel revealed that the R rate could be as high as 1.4 across the seven regions of England.
Amid calls for even tougher restrictions, ministers are considering making face masks mandatory in busy outdoor locations, such as supermarket queues.
As London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a major incident, saying the virus was ‘out of control’ and threatening to overwhelm hospitals in the capital:
- Confirmed coronavirus infections hit a record high of 68,053;
- One in every 15 people in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham may have the virus, according to an official survey;
- A new highly infectious variant now makes up 81 per cent of cases in the capital;
- Senior officials warned its virulence meant the current lockdown was likely to be less effective at curbing the virus than the first;
- More hospitals cancelled other treatments, even cancer operations;
- Police were put on standby to drive ambulances in London;
- Constabularies launched a crackdown on lockdown-breakers;
- A study suggested the Pfizer vaccine works against the new strain;
- UK regulators approved a third vaccine but it will not be available until spring;
- Vaccine tsar Kate Bingham vowed the target to inoculate the 13million most vulnerable by February 15 would be met.
Everyone in England is being urged to stay at home and ‘act like you’ve got it’ as part of a major advertising campaign. including posters (pictured) encouraging the public to control the spread of the virus and protect the NHS and save lives
A commuter wears a facemask as he sits in a bus shelter with signage promoting ‘Stay Home, Save Lives’ in central London
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has issued a plea to families and begged them to stay home to save lives as the UK recorded its highest death toll since the pandemic began today and the NHS launches a new ad campaign fronted by Chris Whitty
Health chief warns London faces ‘biggest threat’ of pandemic so far
London is facing the biggest threat of the pandemic so far as the NHS buckles under the strain of coronavirus cases, experts warned today as a major incident was declared in the capital. The city is one of the main hotspots of the latest wave of the virus which saw deaths reach a record high today, with its spread now ‘out of control’ in the metropolitan area.
Mayor Sadiq Khan warned that more than 1 per cent of the city’s nine million residents tested positive for Covid last week, with one in 30 residents currently estimated to be infected. In the worst-hit boroughs, it is feared the rate is as high as one in 20 and startling figures also show that hospital admissions rose by a quarter in the first week of January.
More than 7,000 NHS beds across the capital are currently occupied by Covid patients – 35 per cent higher than the busiest day of the pandemic in the spring.
The hard-hitting ad campaign was launched on TV last night, fronted by Chief Medical Officer Professor Whitty. He said that while vaccines provided ‘clear hope for the future… for now we must all stay at home’.
Professor Whitty, who is the most trusted government figure on Covid, said the rapid spread of the virus was putting ‘many people at risk of serious disease and is placing a lot of pressure on our NHS’.
Dramatic images will carry the stark message: ‘Coronavirus. If you go out, you can spread it. People will die.’
Prof Whitty says: ‘Covid-19, especially the new variant, is spreading quickly across the country. This puts many people at risk of serious disease and is placing a lot of pressure on our NHS.
‘Once more, we must all stay home. If it’s essential to go out, remember: wash your hands, cover your face indoors and keep your distance from others.
‘Vaccines give clear hope for the future, but for now we must all stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.’ The campaign also urges people to ‘act like you’ve got it’ adding that ‘anyone can spread it’.
England is now in its toughest and longest lockdown since last spring and may not emerge from it until all the most vulnerable groups have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
The Prime Minister has called in the Army to ramp up Britain’s vaccination roll out, which offers the only glimmer of hope for ending lockdowns. The sluggish programme has been dogged by staffing and supply issues and bureaucratic barriers that have strangled it in the early stages.
It comes as police were accused of cracking the lockdown whip too hard after a force threatened to fine people £200 for playing in the snow – while elsewhere officers swooped on two friends for driving just seven miles to go for a walk at a beauty spot.
And No 10 fears that Mr Johnson’s stay-at-home order is being flouted – a suspicion backed up by figures from Transport for London.
Passenger levels on the Underground were running at 18 per cent yesterday, compared with just 5 per cent last April. Bus use is at 30 per cent of capacity, compared with around 18 per cent in the first lockdown.
And traffic levels on main roads in the capital were at 76 per cent of normal compared with 30-40 per cent nine months ago.
Apple Mobility Trends shows driving down by 44 per cent, walking down by 62 per cent and transit down by 68 per cent in London
Tom Tom figures also has commuters driving into work at rush hour as remaining steady at just 25 per cent
Most seats were taken up at Canada Water on the Jubilee Line heading into the city centre and some people had to stand
Pictured is driving, walking and transit data from Apple Mobility for the capital over the course of the last year
Pupils swab themselves while a nurse watches on
Pupils have been swabbing themselves as school nurses watch on despite proof rapid tests only work if they are administered properly. Students at Oasis Academy in Coulsdon, Surrey, were sent the kits on Monday and given instructions by nurses on how to carry out the tests themselves.
Only vulnerable children or those whose parents are key workers are allowed to attend lessons in person during the latest national lockdown. It comes as figures suggest schools could still be attended by up to 20 per cent of pupils. But children are now being supervised by nurses, similar to how some walk-in testing centres are run, rather than having a nurse carry out the tests themselves.
The idea is that fewer medical experts or volunteers are needed allowing a larger number of people to be test more quickly. But multiple studies show lateral flow tests – when self-administered – could miss cases, due to the force and depth needed to collect a sample. It comes as calls to limit the number of children in school is growing, with attendance levels surging to more than 50 per cent in some areas.
The major incident declared by Mr Khan yesterday is a procedure previously invoked following the Grenfell Tower disaster and major terrorist attacks.
The mayor called for the closure of places of worship and for face masks to be worn routinely outside the home. Downing Street sources said there were ‘no more new lockdown measures on the way’.
But the Mail understands that Health Secretary Matt Hancock and other ministers have been examining the case to extend the use of masks.
Mr Khan said the situation in the capital was dire, with an estimated one in every 50 Londoners infected. ‘It’s like being in a theatre of war,’ he said. ‘Unless we reduce the spread, the NHS will run out of beds.’
City Hall said Covid cases in the capital had exceeded 1,000 per 100,000 and there were 35 per cent more hospital admissions with the virus than last April.
Professor Kevin Fenton, Public Health England’s regional director for London, said: ‘This is the biggest threat our city has faced in this pandemic to date.
‘The emergence of the new variant means we are setting record case rates at almost double the national average, with at least one in 30 people (in London) now thought to be carrying the virus.
‘Our NHS services are under immense pressure and currently another 800 people are being admitted to our hospitals every day.’
The London Ambulance Service is taking up to 8,000 emergency calls a day and at one east London hospital patients were apparently waiting 24 hours for a bed after arriving at A&E.
NHS London said a record 977 patients were admitted to hospitals over 24 hours.
Cases per day in London
People being hospitalised in London
Coronavirus deaths in London
He said that over the last three days alone the NHS has announced 477 deaths in London hospitals following a positive test for Covid-19 (Piccadilly Circus pictured today)
Nurse catches Covid three weeks AFTER getting vaccine as expert warns it takes time for immunity to build up
A nurse in Wales caught coronavirus three weeks after getting the vaccine, prompting experts to warn that it takes time for immunity to the virus to build up.
The nurse, who has been working for the Hywel Dda University Health Board area, said that she contracted Covid-19 while waiting for the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech developed vaccine.
While the vaccine ‘reduces your chance of suffering,’ the health board said, ‘no vaccine is 100 percent effective.’
Experts have warned that vaccines can take weeks to build immunity, and that people must still be careful to follow coronavirus rules after having the jab.
Speaking to the BBC, the nurse – who chose not to be identified – said she was ‘angry and heartbroken’ to have caught Covid at this stage.
She said that she was initially relieved to be offered the chance to be given the vaccine, and while she struggled to get an appointment, she was given her first dose of the Pzizer-BioNtech vaccine in December last year.
‘It gave me peace of mind. It made me feel safer and that I was doing the right thing for my family… but it gives a false sense of security,’ she told the broadcaster.
The nurse said that it was explained to her that it would take 10 days for the vaccine to offer some protection against Covic-19, and reduce the risk of transmission.
But three weeks after being given the jab, she said she began to feel unwell, suffering from ‘quite severe symptoms’ of a bad cough, high temperature and breathlessness, and was ‘shocked’ when she tested positive for the coronavirus – followed by her partner and one of her children.
Vaccinations have been shown to prevent severe infection, so even if people do become infected, they would be protected from becoming seriously unwell.
The virus is also spreading rapidly outside the capital. Six out of ten hospitals in England are now reporting more Covid patients than in the first wave – a situation doctors say is ‘cataclysmic’.
Fewer than 500 were in hospital at the start of September but yesterday the figure stood at 28,246. That is an increase of more than 11,000 in a fortnight.
A doctor from Merseyside said her hospital is ‘almost at the limit’ with patients having to wait in corridors or ambulances.
Scientists advising the Government believe the current lockdown may lead to a plateau of cases across the UK rather than the dramatic cut seen in the March and April lockdown.
They estimate there are currently more than 100,000 new infections per day and possibly higher than 150,000.
They believe this estimate puts the current number of daily cases at a higher level than during the first wave of the pandemic. Hospitals are now seeing far more younger people than during the first wave.
There are also mounting fears about the knock-on effects on wider public health.
Experts expect there to be thousands of deaths as a result of disruption to cancer surgery in this wave, with some patients having vital operations cancelled even while they were heading to hospital.
Campaign group Catch up with Cancer: ‘If you have got Covid you can have a bed, but if you’ve got cancer you can’t have an operation. These cancer patients are dying at home and will be for the next five years.’
But there was an extra glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel as a third vaccine in the fight against coronavirus was approved for use in the UK on Friday.
The jab, from US biotech firm Moderna, has been given the green light by the MHRA – joining the vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca.
The approval of the Moderna vaccine means the UK should have three vaccines to use when it comes on stream in spring.
The Government has increased its order of the vaccine to 17 million doses – enough to vaccinate 8.5 million people – with batches expected to be released in phases.
It has been shown to be 94 per cent effective against Covid-19 in clinical trials. Mr Johnson tweeted: ‘Excellent news the @MHRAgovuk has approved the use of the @moderna-tx vaccine.
‘Our national vaccine effort is accelerating to vaccinate priority groups with our existing two vaccines, and the Moderna doses will add to that when they become available in spring.’
The Office for National Statistics found in its mass testing programme that almost two thirds (61 per cent) of the positive tests it found in England appeared to be linked to the new variant of the virus. The figure was higher for some regions – particularly in London and the South – but lower in others
Positive cases appeared to be starting to fall or level off in London, the East and South East of England in this week’s ONS data, which Professor Christ Whitty picked up on in a press briefing earlier this week
The new variant of coronavirus (blue line) has become the dominant strain in England but is not yet more common than other types of the virus in the UK’s other countries, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, ONS testing shows
The Kent variant of the virus (blue line) has become dominant in London, the East of England and the South East, but not yet in other parts of the country, although it is narrowing the gap in most places
A graph presented by Professor Chris Whitty this week showed that the number of people testing positive for the new variant of coronavirus (blue line) appeared to start coming down in London and the South East towards the end of December, although it has risen in other regions
The Covid Symptom Study, which uses reports from around one million people who have the app on their phones, showed that cases have been surging non-stop since the effects of England’s second lockdown wore off in early December
Prince William thanks frontline NHS workers during a video call with staff at Homerton University Hospital
Prince William has paid tribute to NHS staff working on the Covid frontline and thanked them for their continued efforts during a particularly challenging time.
The Duke of Cambridge, 38, spoke to staff from Homerton University Hospital via video call on January 7 to hear more about their experiences responding to the pandemic in recent weeks.
In the past week, Homerton University Hospital has seen their highest number of admissions since the pandemic began, with over 200 Covid patients currently being cared for and staff being moved to new roles within the hospital to cope with the ongoing pressure on frontline staff.
During the call, William heard from staff about the significant challenges that they are currently facing, and how this time compares to their experiences during previous spikes in transmission rates.
He told staff: ‘You’re all in my thoughts and Catherine and I, and all of the children, talk about all of you guys every day.
‘We’re making sure the children understand the sacrifices that all of you are making.’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted: ‘This is fantastic news and another weapon in our arsenal to tame this awful disease.’
Nearly 1.5 million people in the UK have already been vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccines, with the Government aiming to jab 15 million of those most at risk by mid-February.
With the current lockdown and vaccine rollout, deaths from coronavirus are expected to start dropping in February, while hospital admissions should drop.
Coronavirus cases are expected to drop in the spring due to vaccination plus the fact people spend more time outdoors, making it harder for the virus to spread.
Elsewhere, research published on Friday suggests the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech appears to protect against a mutation in two coronavirus variants.
The pharmaceutical giant and researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch carried out lab tests on the strains -from the UK and South Africa.
Both variants contain mutations including N501Y, an alteration in the spike protein of the virus, which is a target for vaccines.
In the study, not yet peer-reviewed, people given the Pfzier jab had neutralising levels of antibodies which appeared to work against N501Y in the new strains.
But one of the mutations in the South Africa variant, named E484K, has not yet been studied and is still causing concern for experts.
While scientists at the top of Government increasingly believe the UK variant can be tacked with existing vaccines, there is concern that the South African variant has the potential to make them less effective, though studies are ongoing.
In future years, it is thought that Covid-19 vaccines will need to be tweaked annually much in the same way the winter flu jab is.
Meanwhile, papers released by the Government from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), which advises ministers, suggests communication campaigns will be needed to ensure those who are vaccinated continue to adhere to lockdown rules.
It said there was some evidence that, ‘in the absence of any mitigation policies, some of those who have been vaccinated will show a reduction in personal protective behaviours’ such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
It is not yet known whether vaccination can prevent people passing the virus onto other people.
Problems by the armful… but at last we’re saving lives with Pfizer’s ‘pizza boxes from heaven’: Thousands of phone calls and up to a fifth of patients refusing jabs – one medic reveals the reality behind all the rhetoric
It is the logistical challenge of a lifetime: the roll-out of essential Covid-19 vaccines at a rate that, hopefully, will help free the country from the endless cycles of lockdowns.
With 1.5 million doses dispensed so far — and the promise of two million a week to come — Louise Kyle, a nursing leader in a large inner-city practice, gives an insight into the gargantuan effort required for just one vaccine ‘hub’ to play its part.
Mon, December 7
The usual business of a Monday morning is compounded by news that our proposed vaccine ‘hub’ has been given the OK to ‘go live’ in eight days.
We’d volunteered to be an active ‘wave one’ site for the Pfizer jab from the moment we were able. Now, here we were, at the coal face of this history-making exercise.
Louise Kyle, (pictured) a nursing leader in a large inner-city practice, gives an insight into the gargantuan effort required for just one vaccine ‘hub’ to play its part
It’s exciting, but daunting given the huge challenge that lies ahead, the scale of which becomes apparent almost immediately when, within a day of receiving our news, NHS England changes its guidelines to say that all vaccinated patients will have to stay behind for 15 minutes after receiving their jab, in case of an allergic reaction — something that simply isn’t possible in the site we’d prepared, given the need for social distancing.
It means a hasty pivot to a new arrangement, in our case asking our district nurses to vacate their clinical rooms — the best we can do at a week’s notice. Still, it gives us some practice thinking on our feet, which I’m sure, given what lies ahead, will prove useful.
Wed, December 9
With our vaccine site confirmed the focus is on logistics. Given the vaccine’s strict ‘shelf life’ once it comes out of its deep-freeze storage, we have a 90-hour window to vaccinate 1,000 people. That means reaching some 2,000 registered patients in our area who are aged over 80 to get those who wish to take up the offer booked in.
Time constraints mean there’s no time to reach them by post and, given that we can’t rely on the mass-texting system we use to reach younger patients, we have a team of 12 staff across our practices phoning patients solidly from dawn until dusk. I even recruit my 19-year-old son, now at home from university, to help man the lines.
It’s a complex business, not least because English is not the first language for some of our patients, while others are lonely and want to chat for hours.
It’s one reason we give our team a script to stick to. Happily, most patients are only too eager to accept their proffered appointment, but it’s dismaying that one in five of them either decline to have the jab at all, or say they want to wait a bit longer before making their decision.
It is the logistical challenge of a lifetime: the roll-out of essential Covid-19 vaccines. Pictured: Taking delivery of the first batch in its takeaway-style box
Is Britain’s great Covid vaccine roll-out finally picking up pace?
Britain’s sluggish coronavirus vaccine roll out may finally be starting to gather steam as pictures emerged today of dozens of elderly residents queuing in the freezing cold to get their jabs, after Boris Johnson brought in the Army to ramp up delivery to 200,000 doses a day by the end of next week.
The pensioners were snapped standing in line outside a vaccination centre in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, today as they patiently waited to get their first dose.
But many are still yet to be called for an appointment, with 99-year-old RAF veteran Arthur Clark who is classed as extremely vulnerable to Covid because of his age, saying he is still yet to be offered a jab by the NHS despite trying to get a slot since Christmas.
The widower and great-grandfather-of-four told MailOnline from his home in Beckenham, south east London: ‘It’s very annoying, I thought I’d been lost in the system.’ He added: ‘I appreciate it takes a while to get round to everyone, but I would have thought they’d have tried to give people of my age priority.’
And in yet more chaos to the lackluster scheme, a housebound 89-year-old widow was asked to travel 16 miles to a vaccination centre despite being unable to drive. Her daughter claimed the 80-minute journey from her home in rural Harleston, South Norfolk, was out of the question.
One elderly Briton in her nineties also claims she hasn’t yet been able to get vaccinated because health bosses are going down the list in alphabetical order, instead of age priority.
It comes as a patients’ rights group warned that some elderly Britons may be missing their Covid jabs because of AWOL reminder letters and text alerts amid reports of people not turning up to get either the Pfizer/BioNTech jab because they were waiting ‘for the English one’.
Fri, December 11
Two days of our first three-day vaccine schedule are now fully booked, with more than 600 patients scheduled to receive a jab on the coming Tuesday and Wednesday, leaving only Thursday to be sorted.
There’s a palpable sense of excitement among the team.
As I go home for a well-earned glass of wine I hope this is the moment that we turn the corner to combat Covid in our area, where it has been running rife.
Along with many of my colleagues, I caught the virus back in March — before the first national lockdown — and though I pulled through fine, it was still a wretched experience. For others, of course, it can be a matter of life or death.
I’ve lost several much-loved patients to this cruel disease over the past months.
Sun, December 13
I spoke too soon! My peaceful Sunday morning is overturned by an email informing us there’s been a 24-hour delay to the vaccine’s arrival. Cue a hasty scramble to get colleagues in to work to contact all of Tuesday’s patients and tell them to come in on Friday instead.
Since many of them had relatives or friends who had taken time off work to bring them in, it’s a major inconvenience, but mercifully most understand it’s not our fault.
Mon, December 14
Our ‘telephone terriers’ hit the phones again to book Thursday’s remaining slots, while I visit a local hospital to see how the vaccine vials arrive and are mixed to ensure the correct dosage.
The answer to the former, I discover, is that they come in what looks strangely like a small pizza box — rather different to the sci-fi cube emitting clouds of dry-ice that I’d half been expecting.
We’re similarly underwhelmed back at base by the arrival of the storage fridge, which we’d all pictured as some futuristic number but, in reality, is like a small under-the-counter affair you might keep your drinks in at home: ‘A G&T or a dose of Pfizer, darling?’ With the delivery of all the aprons, syringes and wipes we’re going to need, things are gearing up, although I’m anxious that with just hours to go until ‘V-Day’ we’re still awaiting the national protocol which allows our healthcare assistants and other junior staff or ‘lay vaccinators’ to help us administer it quickly and safely.
Ralph Evans, 88, receives the vaccine in Merthyr Tydfil. He is among the 1.5million to have been given the NHS jab
Scientists warn of rise in infections over government allowing arrivals to choose ‘less accurate’ lateral flow tests to prove they are infection-free
Coronavirus cases could be missed at Britain’s border following the government’s decision to let travellers choose ‘less accurate’ lateral flow tests to prove they’re Covid-free, scientists have warned.
Those arriving in the UK will be able to present negative PCR or lateral flow Covid tests as proof that they do not have coronavirus.
Grant Shapps has said nobody will be able to depart for Britain by plane, train or ferry unless they present a ‘recognised’ test result at check-in along with a valid passport and visa if required. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also adopt the measure.
PCR tests can take longer because they are sent off to a lab to check for Covid, with some critics saying 72 hours could be too tight. Rapid ‘lateral flow’ tests can be turned around in minutes, but missed cases and false positives are more common.
The difference has sparked concerns that Covid-positive travellers could present a negative test at the border to gain entry to Britain.
Professor Jon Deeks, a testing expert at the University of Birmingham, said: ‘The lateral flow test, we know, is not very sensitive so it will miss cases and it isn’t suitable.’
He added: ‘Other countries are using PCR and I would be concerned if we didn’t. There are alternatives, but we need something with similar accuracy to PCR.’
Dr Alex Edwards, a pharmacy researcher at the University of Reading, told MailOnline: ‘Given that this is a screening programme particularly for asymptomatic people, you want the most sensitive tests available, and PCR tests are the most sensitive available.
‘But even different manufacturers have varying levels of accuracy and not everyone is positive if they’re infected, which can cause enormous problems.
‘I think the problem is that, in general, the lateral flow tests are almost always less sensitive. If you have a really good PCR tests you might catch 80 per cent of people so you can reduce the number cases coming in five-fold.
‘We’ve seen huge variations in accuracy [of lateral flow]. Accuracy is always compared to PCR and when they were used in the real world, for example the study in Liverpool, it showed it was only capable of picking up half of the PCR cases, and that’s half of 80 per cent, so you can’t even reduce the number of people coming in by two-fold.’
Dr Edwards added that using lateral flow tests would prevent scientists from being able to detect or monitor new strains being brought into the country from abroad.
The negative Covid test for all travellers to the UK will be imposed ‘next Wednesday or Thursday’ as stars including Amanda Holden slammed the Government’s plan as too little too late as mutant strains from countries like South Africa entered the country.
Tue, December 15
It’s here! The vaccine arrives mid-morning, and given all the fuss, I’d been braced for an elite squad of specialists, bearing it forth with all the awe of a holy relic. Instead, it’s a man-in-a-van: more Amazon delivery than Indiana Jones. Nonetheless we’re all excited to have what one colleague quips is the ‘Pizza Box from Heaven’.
Inside are 195 precious vials, each containing five doses, meaning 975 separate vaccines.
We’re all keenly aware that every second now is vital, as the countdown to beat the strict five-day expiry date has already begun, starting from the moment they leave the laboratory freezer.
Unlike the vintage pots of hummus in my fridge back home, there’s no wriggle room on ‘best before’ dates here.
Our schedule is based on three vaccinators working 9am to 7pm, giving a jab every five minutes. On paper, that looks do-able, until you think about the reality of dealing with elderly, sometimes frail, patients who need time to move around, remove their layers of winter clothing and so forth.
Throw in the strict social distancing requirements and it becomes trickier still, especially when you consider the additional personnel in the building required by the guidelines: as well as our three vaccinators, there has to be a GP on site, two healthcare professionals and a team of five marshals to shepherd the patients around.
Wed, December 16, V-Day One
The big day arrives. My job is to take the vials and convert them into syringe-dosages, following a labyrinthine series of procedures which require such delicate handling we have taken to calling them our little ‘V-babies’.
First the vials are removed from the fridge into a light-proof bag — they are light-sensitive as well as heat-sensitive.
I then take out the first six vials, mark them with a special time label, and leave them for ten minutes to get them to room temperature, before inverting each vial ten times and adding 1.8 millilitres of sterile saline and withdrawing the same amount of air.
They then have to be inverted another ten times before another date and time label is added.
With over 20 years’ experience, I’m used to this kind of painstaking procedure, but I can’t help thinking that for many of the groups proposing to join the ‘vaccine army’ it would be somewhat daunting and time-consuming. Unlike the flu jab, which comes ‘arm-ready’ as it were, this is more complicated. If the Government’s going to hit its targets, there will need to be some swift training factored in.
I’m intrigued by the instruction to only take five 0.3 millilitre doses out of each vial and throw away what’s left.
Out of interest I drew the last dose out of one vial and discovered it was 0.5 millilitres, which strikes me as a dose wasted. But rules are rules.
The day passes quickly, and it’s heartening to learn from my vaccinating colleagues that every single one of their patients was so grateful to receive it, although some of them expressed guilt at being at the front of the queue and said they felt key workers and teachers should have been vaccinated first.
The day ends on a happy note when we learn that the traffic warden we’d spotted hovering outside wasn’t handing out tickets, but helping our elderly patients out of their cars and taxis.
It’s a Christmas miracle!
Thu, December 17
Another change from NHS England: overnight they decide we can now take six doses from each vial. That means we suddenly have 65 extra doses spare, and can vaccinate more patients. Our team hit the phones again. Every dose used is another life protected.
One step forward . . . two little hiccups back. Our IT system goes on the blink for an hour and a half, while we learn one of our marshals has called in sick with Covid.
Fri, December 18
Another busy day, and by 4pm, as we count the number of patients left waiting, with a handful of no-shows through the day, we realise we’ll have a few vaccine shots left over.
But as the clock runs down, we’re nearing the use-by deadline. Quick! We hit the phones to rally local healthcare professionals within a one-mile radius who, unlike more elderly patients, can get here pronto. We want to ensure not a precious drop is wasted.
We finish at 9pm, following an exhausting 12-hour shift: everyone had fitted the equivalent of a standard full NHS working week into three days.
Rishi Sunak examining plans for a £3billion scheme to help a MILLION small business owners
Rishi Sunak is examining plans for a £3billion scheme to help a million small business owners who have fallen between the cracks of other coronavirus help programmes.
The Chancellor is looking at proposals for a Directors Income Support Scheme that would pay sole directors up to 80 per cent of lost profits for three months, up to a ceiling of £7,500.
The scheme, targeting those earning less than £50,000 a year, would help entrepreneurs as well as plumbers, engineers and musicians.
Known as the #forgottenltd they pay themselves through dividends rather than a salary – a tax move that is legally allowed.
But it has left them unable to claim furlough or business loans.
A source told the Sun that the Treasury was examining a plan put forward by the Federation of Small Businesses, the Forgotten Ltd campaign, former Office for Tax Simplification adviser Rebecca Seeley-Harris and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).
‘It’s under active consideration,’ they said.
Lib Dem MP Tim Farron said it was ‘encouraging news’, but added: ‘After 10 months of broken promises it’s vital the Chancellor now delivers. ‘The small business owners that make up the #ForgottenLtd and all of the three million #excluded are crucial to our economic recovery. We won’t stop fighting until they are ALL supported.’
We’ve administered 1,031 doses, we’re all knackered, and my knees hurt, but there’s a real buzz.
I spend much of Saturday morning trying to catch up on the Christmas shopping I’ve had no time to do, only to discover that afternoon that my area is to be plunged into Tier 4 rules, meaning non-essential shops will have to close. Sorry, kids, Santa’s been a bit busy.
Mon, December 21
It’s a return to normal business, as I try to catch up with all the patients I’ve had to cancel from my usual clinics to work on the vaccine roll-out.
That means everything from smear tests to ‘frailty reviews’ — managing elderly patients’ end of life plans, and whether or not they would like to be resuscitated in the event of cardiac failure. There’s a slightly grim irony in undertaking the latter with a patient who, just a few days earlier, had been given a life-saving jab.
It feels like saying: ‘We’ve helped save your life, now how would you like to die?’
Wed, December 23
I thought I was off for Christmas, a time to recharge the batteries, but lo and behold the holiday’s interrupted with another goalpost-moving missive from NHS England, this time informing us they are going to extend the period between the two vaccine doses from three weeks to 12 weeks.
This means that any area which started administering their vaccines on or after Wednesday 16th needs to cancel those patients due their second jab, and book a thousand new patients in for their first instead.
Oh, and we can’t even tell the first thousand when they should come back, as the vaccine supply is so patchy at the moment we can’t make plans that far ahead.
How on earth can we make those 2,000 phone calls in time? On a good day, one ‘telephone terrier’ working flat out can reach about 120-150 patients a day.
Frantic conversations between health chiefs ensue, until a pragmatic solution is reached. Huge relief!
Nonetheless, given all the coverage in the media, we still have to call all 1,000 patients to reassure them their appointments are going ahead.
Tue, January 5, 2021
Hallelujah! The second lot of vaccines arrive at our hub on schedule. This time I’m at least expecting a man-in-a-van, not the Messiah.
Wed, January 6
Round two gets under way. It feels calmer this time as we’ve established a good working rhythm. With a fair wind, we’ll pick up speed, but the fiddly nature of the Pfizer jab means it’s surely going to be a huge challenge to scale-up on a national level.
The Government are making promises to have administered 12 million doses by mid-Feb.
As my eye-rolling teenager would say: good luck with that.
Fri, January 8
Another day of mixed news. Our final tranche of Pfizer jabs is marred by the IT system used to register all vaccinations — called Pinnacle — going down for most of the morning.
Now all 480 patients due in will have to be logged by hand and inputted onto the database at a later date.
I worry the system is struggling to cope as more and more hubs join the national roll-out.
On the plus side, we get the first arrival of 400 doses of the alternative ‘Oxford’ or AstraZeneca vaccine, which are to go to local care homes as they’re more transportable and require less gentle care than our Pfizer V-babies.
On paper, this is good news — if only we weren’t all so hampered by NHS England’s obsession with running all vaccinations through specific designated ‘hubs’ like ours.
The reality of this is that the maximum number of front-line vaccinators we can have working from the hub at any one time is four, whereas if we were allowed to give it out at our usual local GP surgeries too, I could have two vaccinators working at each of our ten sites — taking that number up to 20.
That’s a huge potential to upscale, if only NHS England would listen. Overnight, we got another missive from them saying the Oxford vaccine can at least be delivered to different sites, but still no clarity on whether it can be administered there, too.
If it can’t, then I’m afraid Boris’s pledge of delivering two million doses a week doesn’t stand a chance, especially given the baffling reality that by the time you read this, our hub will stand empty and unused.
At the time of writing, we have no further vaccine deliveries scheduled. And so we wait . . .
After all our efforts, it’s disheartening. And very worrying.
Now police ban SNOWBALLS! Officers threaten to fine people £200 for playing in the snow – after swooping on friends for driving just SEVEN miles to go for a walk in the park – and claiming their cups of tea counted as a picnic
Police today faced criticism they were taking the lockdown crackdown too far after a force threatened to fine people £200 for playing in the snow – while elsewhere officers swooped on two friends for driving just seven miles to go for a walk at a beauty spot.
The Broseley and Much Wenlock division of West Mercia Police tweeted last night: ‘There have been two reports of snowballs being thrown last night between 11 and 11.30pm.
‘This is obviously not a justifiable reason to be out of your house, this behaviour is likely to result in a £200 Fixed Penalty Notice for breaking the lockdown rules.’
Meanwhile, Derbyshire Police fined beautician Jessica Allen and her British Airways flight attendant friend Eliza Moore £200 each for driving for a socially distanced stroll at Foremark Reservoir, which despite not being her nearest park is only 10 minutes from her house.
Ms Allen, 27, said she assumed ‘someone had been murdered’ when she saw a police van, a police car and several officers at the entrance of the open space.
Neighbourhood officers for the Broseley and Much Wenlock tweeted on Thursday night: ‘There have been two reports of snowballs being thrown last night between 11 and 11.30pm’
Jessica Allen (left) and Eliza Moore were stopped by officers from Derbyshire Police while they were enjoying a socially distanced walk at a Derbyshire beauty spot
Ms Allen (left) and Ms Moore (right) were taking a stroll at Foremark Reservoir when they were surrounded by Derbyshire Police, read their rights and hit with £200 fines each
Ms Allen, a beautician from nearby Ashby-de-la-Zouch, said she assumed ‘someone had been murdered’ when she saw a police van, a police car and several officers at the entrance of the open space. This map shows the proximity between her house and the reservoir
‘It was a short journey and only took about ten minutes,’ she said. I genuinely thought someone had been murdered or a child had gone missing; the place is normally so quiet.
‘The next thing, my car is surrounded. I got out of my car thinking ”There’s no way they’re coming to speak to us”. Straight away they start questioning us. One of them started reading my rights and I was looking at my friend thinking ”This must be a joke”.
‘I said we had come in separate cars, even parked two spaces away and even brought our own drinks with us. He said ”You can’t do that as it’s classed as a picnic”.
‘Crossing into a different county seems to have caused the issue but the border into Derbyshire is only a minute away from my house.’
Ms Moore, who is 27 and alongside her work for BA runs a make-up business, said she was ‘stunned at the time’ so did not challenge police and gave her details so they could send a fixed penalty notice.
‘Just seeing a police officer anyway is quite scary for some people and we were really not expecting to be approached and to be told we were doing something wrong,’ she said.
‘We don’t want to get away with it if we have broken the rule, but it seems a bit unfair that you can be fined on something that’s so vague.’
The pair were also told their cups of Starbucks peppermint tea, which they bought at a drive-thru, were not allowed because they were ‘classed as a picnic’.
All car parks in Snowdonia National Park have now been closed to visitors. Pictured is a police car patrolling the beauty spot last night
A police officer stopped a group of three walkers as they headed through Birmingham City Centre amid lockdown
A police officer took a picture of one man, as others crowded around another person while they were out walking in Birmingham City Centre despite coronavirus lockdown
The Met has vowed not to warn people any longer and punish them with fixed penalty notices of at £200 for first offences, and these officers were also stopping cars
Guidance for the current lockdown says people can travel for exercise ‘as long as it is in their local area’, but does not specify how far people can travel.
Derbyshire Police insisted the distance was ‘at the discretion’ of individual officers and the trip was ‘not in the spirit of the rules’.
It later said all fixed penalty notices issued during the new national lockdown will be reviewed after it received clarification about the coronavirus regulations.
The force has previously been criticised for its heavy-handed approach to enforcing the restrictions, and in March released drone footage of dog walkers in the Peak District in an attempt to ‘shame’ them.
And in March, the force dumped black dye into a famous blue lagoon in Harpur Hill near Buxton to prevent Instagrammers from posing for snaps during the lockdown.
It comes as police forces nationwide upped up their enforcement of Covid regulations.
In Aberdeen, two policeman knocked on a family’s front door after complaints from a neighbour and stormed inside as a woman shouted ‘this is my house, get out of my house’ and children screamed in the background.
Two women, aged 18 and 48, and a 43-year-old man were charged in connection with assaulting police officers and threatening and abusive behaviour.
The footage immediately sparked controversy, with critics accusing the police of ‘oppressive’ behaviour for storming into a private house – while others argued they were just trying to enforce the Covid rules.
At Euston, officers were seen stopping passengers this morning to ask where they were going. Barrister Alex Wright tweeted: ‘Good to see lockdown being taken seriously, but a sad sight that I’d have dreamed of seeing in London.’
Snowdonia National Park has now closed all its car parks to visitors to ‘protect our communities and the NHS’, as officials slammed the public for ‘disregarding’ the law.
In an attempt to clarify the guidance, Leicester City Council’s public health director Professor Ivan Browne today urged residents to visit ‘your nearest park, not your nicest park’, Leicester Live reported.